When Norma Cusick served on the Salisbury Township Planning Commission, she wanted to be able to cut through the jargon in legal and land use documents she was reviewing. So she went back to college and became a certified paralegal.
“What it made me do is learn to read documents and contracts,” said Cusick, now on the Salisbury Township Board of Commissioners. “I want to understand what I’m voting for when I vote yes or vote no.”
She tells that story to illustrate how serious she is about public service – even unpaid public service like the planning commission. Cusick will be doing a lot more document reading next year if she wins one of four Lehigh County Board of Commissioners at-large seats up for election this year.
She’s running in the May 17th Republican primary for a four-year term.
Cusick, who has served for five years on the Board of Commissioners, said she will not seek re-election. She is one of two Republicans on the five-member board. Her current term expires January 1, 2012.
Of those on the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners currently holding the at-large seats, Republican Andy Roman is expected to run for county sheriff and Democrat William Hansell has said he will not seek re-election. Republican Dean Browning and Democrat Gloria Hamm are planning to run for re-election but have not formally announced.
Cusick, 66, has held a laundry list of other positions, including Salisbury Township School District director for eight years during the 1990s. She is currently on the board of the Lehigh County Authority, which provides residents with water and sewer service, and the Allentown Public Library board. She’s a former board member for the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, and the Child Advocacy Center of Lehigh County and helped spearhead the efforts to build the Lehigh County sports fields in South Whitehall Township.
That’s in addition to raising nine children -- all grown up now -- while her physician husband Richard Cusick practiced medicine. Their oldest son, John, is chairman of the Northampton County Council.
“He was groomed on politics,” Cusick said. “He was groomed on trying to make the place he lives a better place.”
Norma Cusick said she decided to run for county commissioner after the county passed its budget with a 16 percent tax increase last October. As a Salisbury commissioner, she never voted for a tax hike, she said, and has tried to assume a watchdog role on the board. “We negotiate to get the best deal possible [for taxpayers],” she said.
But Cusick also said she recognizes that the county provides vital services to vulnerable citizens. “I would never balance a budget on the backs of the elderly, children and the youth of Lehigh County,” she said. “I think we have some of the hardest working employees of any county. They’re the backbone of Lehigh County.”
She made clear it she doesn’t subscribe to the anti-public employees union sentiment currently on exhibit in Wisconsin. “Three of my children are union members,” Cusick said. Two are teachers and one is a member of the Screen Actors Guild.
“I want employees who want to come to work every day,” Cusick said. “We should not balance our budget on the backs of the county employees.”
Instead, she would look toward more regionalization of services as a way to save taxpayers money. She supports a bi-county health department to serve all of Lehigh and Northampton counties. Right now only Allentown and Bethlehem have them.
“We need to make sure if there is a epidemic or pandemic or catastrophe we can meet the needs of all the residents in both counties,” she said. “The hospitals aren’t in a position to do that.”
Cusick earned her bachelors degree from DeSales University and a masters degree in counseling psychology from Kutztown University. In addition to her volunteer work, she’s held paid positions at the American Heart Association and the Allentown Downtown Improvement District.
Cusick said she thinks she’d bring a different viewpoint and life experiences to the nine-member county board of commissioners, which only has one woman, Gloria Hamm.
“I know how to govern,” Cusick said.